When asked how he feels about having his mom as his soccer coach, 9-year-old Bradley Ramos said, “It feels cool,” adding that he likes, “how we can go home and talk about what we’re gonna do the next practice.”
Bradley’s mom, Sarah Ramos, coaches a group of 8- and 9-year-old boys for the American Youth Soccer Organization with her friend Brett Ryder, who also has a son on the team. Sarah and Ryder are neighbors who met several years ago, with their sons also being friends and having attended school together.
When asked why he decided to be a coach for AYSO, Ryder explained that both his and Sarah’s kids have been playing in AYSO since they were young. “As the organization is made entirely of volunteers, volunteering to coach is away to give back to something that our family has benefited from for many years.”
In the past Sarah had some “great coaching experiences and some unfortunate ones,” but ultimately decided to coach because she wants to “share the game that I love with my son and his peers. I hope to be a positive role model for these boys,” she explained.
Sarah played soccer for AYSO when she was a kid and decided to coach for the organization over a club team or i9 because, “it’s a great way to learn the game in a fun and non-competitive environment. I think kids need to fall in love with the game and the ‘everyone plays’ philosophy of AYSO helps accomplish that goal.”
Ryder added that, “Many of the other leagues are hyper-competitive and require enormous time commitments from the players and their families, which comes as a significant opportunity cost for all involved.” For Ryder, AYSO helps him to balance priorities and place pursuits like academics before athletics. “Keeping sports fun through a league like AYSO helps us to reinforce those priorities,” he said.
Sarah and Ryder begin practices at 5:30 pm at Quintessence Park in northeast Albuquerque, where in early March the 6 pm sunset demands a shorter practice, but also a beautiful backdrop to the field the team practices at. Since many parents can’t get their kids to practice until after the regular 5 pm end of the workday, and there are few lights at city parks, a lot of teams are forced to have shorter practices prior to the daylight savings’ time change.
None of the players on the Thunderbirds seem to mind the short practices though, and parents are happy their kids finally get to run around outside after being cooped up at home over the winter.
Even though the Thunderbirds played in the fall, many parents are just now beginning to feel some relief from the pandemic that required them to quarantine and be stay-at-home parent/teachers while their kids got less outdoor time and fewer physical interactions with classmates and friends. During the fall season some players, parents, and siblings were wearing masks at games and sanitation stations were set up at fields where hands and equipment could be cleaned.
Parents and coaches hope the spring season will be a little less stressful with kids having been back to in-person schooling since the beginning of the fall and the state-wide mask mandate lifted in February. For Sarah and Ryder there are plenty of other challenges they must address on the field though.
“Nine-year-old boys – that is the challenge in and of itself,” Sarah said. “They really are a great group of boys, but our biggest challenge is to get them to listen.” To overcome this, Sarah and Ryder have the boys take a knee and set their soccer balls aside while they talk, which helps the players to stay focused.
One of the challenges Ryder is working on is getting players to stay in their position. “Getting 9-year-olds to hold a position and play to its purpose is difficult, especially when their natural instinct is to just chase the ball everywhere in an attempt to score. To overcome this, we take great pains in stressing that playing solid defense is just as valuable as scoring a goal,” he said.
When asked what the most rewarding part of being a coach is, Sarah responded, “Game Day is definitely the most rewarding part of being a coach! It is so fun to see these boys implement the skills that we work on in practice and take them to the field. Seeing the pride and excitement in their faces when they score a goal or do something exciting on the field makes it all worth it!”
The reward for a Ryder is a little different. “For me, it’s been seeing the kids transition from being just a bunch of individuals on the field to actually starting to function on the field as a team. Of course the kids want to see their team score, but when it happens after a great defensive stop and good passing – that leaves everyone with a lasting smile,” he explained.
Although neither Sarah nor Ryder live in the Quintessence neighborhood, they chose to practice there because, “It’s a quiet park with a great energy.” Sarah said she has been taking her kids to Quintessence Park since they were little and likes that the field is set back away from the street and siblings have a place to play while practice is in session.
When asked how he would describe the park when the sun is going down and the clouds are filled with colors, Bradley said, “It’s pretty.”